In today’s high tech, fast-paced world of texting and Internet browsers, storytellers still play an important part in our culture, says Baker, a storyteller herself who loves to share traditional Appalachian tales, folk stories and personal stories.
“You get entertainment and you get the opportunity to connect with people,” she said. “People are so disconnected with emails. We like to push storytelling as more of a connect. We have people who ask, ‘What book will you be reading?’ and we say, ‘No. There’s no book. There is nothing between us and the audience.’ As wonderful as it is to read to a child — and you should do that at every opportunity — it’s still not the same connect as the connection you make with an audience during storytelling.”
Throughout the year the guild offers a storytelling concert and workshops for those who use stories in their careers or just for fun. Local tellers also visit area schools to share stories and encourage future tellers.
“One of the wonderful things about our meetings on the second Tuesday of every month at the local library is that anyone can come in and ask for help in becoming a storyteller and we will help them,” Baker said. “We even have coaches in the guild who will meet with people privately to help them develop a story or their public speaking skills. We’ll help them develop their stories and find story resources. If they want to tell stories to children at schools or to veterans at a special function, we can help you find those stories. Membership is just $10 a year. It’s the best deal in town.”
Baker said the agency wants to remind the public the guild is open to anyone wishing to share in the oral tradition of storytelling. The guild also sponsors two major events for the Cleveland community each year — the Ocoee Story Fest, an early spring gathering for story lovers of all ages, and Tellabration, which is celebrated worldwide in mid-November. People across six continents, in 40 states and nine countries come together to celebrate the joys of storytelling during Tellabration.
To the reserved person who may feel inadequate about speaking in public, Baker said the Cleveland Storytelling Guild is the perfect place to hone their storytelling skills.
“Everybody has a story. That’s the No. 1 thing we tell anybody,” Baker said. “Everybody has a story to tell and everybody can tell a story. They just don’t realize it. We teach them how to take a deep breath, find yourself in the story and just tell it. It’s fun. We’re especially sensitive to those stories where older people are dying and their stories are dying with them. We so encourage young people to go talk to their parents and grandparents.”
Baker spoke about how to use “prompts” to get a person to open up and share their stories. For example, asking a person to tell you about their first day of school will get better results than simply asking them to tell you a story.
“It’s all in how you ask the question,” she said. “And we can help you with that. We’re not showing you how to give a speech. We’re showing you how to express yourself in story. We never go any further than the storyteller wants us to go. At any point the person can stop sharing their story but we will do all we can to help them improve.”
Whether sharing traditional tales with school children, narrating stories that teach a lesson in character or entertaining a crowd with suspense, humor or harrowing adventures, a good storyteller is able to transport the audience to another place and time, something that only requires a listening ear and your mind’s imagination, Baker explained.
“It’s a lot of fun when you can entertain people and give them just a little chill or suspense. A good storyteller never let the truth get in the way of a good story. There’s a big difference in telling a historical recreation and a tall tale. We can teach you to do both.”
Even if a member has no desire to get up and tell a story in public, that is perfectly all right, Baker said. Listeners are welcome, too. Without good listeners the tradition of storytelling would soon end. Baker, a wife and mother of two grown children, said all one has to do to join the Cleveland Storytelling Guild is show up at one of the meetings at the Cleveland-Bradley County Public Library at 795 Church St. N.E., and cover the annual membership of $10 for the year.
“Our members are never at a loss for words,” she said. “I love to tell stories. We just take turns being the audience. If you want to be a storyteller — you already qualify. If you want to come out and listen — you qualify. We welcome everyone, young and old, to join us.”
The Guild promotes storytelling by keeping the community informed of events and activities of interest. For further information, call Judy Baker at 423-479-7887 or Maurine Nichols-Olin at 423-479-2476 or visit www.tntellers.org.